By Jeremy Burns
Veteran author LJ Sellers is poised to unleash her tenth thrilling novel upon the world – RULES OF CRIME. The seventh in her bestselling Detective Jackson series, RULES OF CRIME combines intriguing characters with riveting plot twists to create another solid police procedural that will appeal to longtime fans and new readers alike. She took time out of her busy writing schedule to sit down with THE BIG THRILL and discuss her writing and her latest book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist and editor, working for newspapers, magazines, and an educational publisher. So I’ve been writing and publishing since college. But I didn’t start writing fiction until I was 30, and it took me 20 years to break in, and I did that by going around the wall and self-publishing. I’m tenacious and don’t take no for an answer.
Personally, even though my vocation is sedentary, I’m energetic and a compulsive exerciser, with biking being my main activity. And the scenery couldn’t be more beautiful because I live in Eugene, Oregon, one of the best places on earth…beside Maui.
Tell us about your new thriller, RULES OF CRIME.
Here’s the short description: His ex-wife is kidnapped for ransom, and a college girl is beaten and dumped at a hospital—disparate crimes that challenge Detective Jackson to dig for the shocking secret they share. As the ransom goes horribly wrong and the suspects refuse to crack under interrogation, Jackson fears that his ex-wife will be lost forever and that their daughter, Katie, may never forgive him.
This is the seventh book in your Detective Jackson Mystery series. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in writing a series versus writing your standalone thrillers?
Writing a police procedural series is comfortable. I know the characters and I have a basic investigative structure to work within. So the challenge is to make each story unique and unexpected. I do that by focusing on different kinds of crime, not just murder, and by bringing forward different point-of-view characters in every story. I also introduce new characters, such as FBI Agent Carla River in RULES OF CRIME. The challenge in writing a standalone thriller is the exact opposite. I have to create everything from scratch. But that’s also what’s fun about standalones—stretching my creativity.
What makes Detective Jackson particularly engrossing and/or unique as a series character?
Readers like him because they relate to him. He has all the same problems they do: work/family balance, money struggles, an ex-spouse, and health issues. But he consistently rises above all that to do his job, often giving up food and sleep, to round up suspects while the leads are fresh. He’s dedicated, compassionate, and smart. But he’s also human, and he sometimes misses things when he’s tired or overwhelmed.
What was your initial inspiration for RULES OF CRIME? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
Several things came together to inspire this novel. I wanted to write a story involving the FBI because I hadn’t done that yet, and here in Eugene, the agencies often work in tandem. In addition, I was angry and frustrated with hazing crimes that lead to the death of a young person who just wants to belong. After bouncing those ideas off each other, I found the connection that made the parallel stories come together.
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
My primary research was to interview a local FBI agent and get specific details about how he handles kidnapping cases. I also spent time online researching hazing incidents. That was the most disgusting research I’ve ever done. Some of the things that young women do to each are unspeakable. The incident in the novel may seem extreme, but it’s less harsh than other hazing crimes that happened in real life.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in RULES OF CRIME do you most identify?
There is a little bit of me in almost all my characters—one of the advantages of having multiple personalities. In some ways, I identify the most with Detective Lara Evans. She’s energetic, passionate, and impulsive, and not afraid to kick ass or get dirty. I explored her character in detail in both DYING FOR JUSTICE (Jackson #5) and THE GAUNTLET ASSASSIN (a standalone thriller). I also relate to Sophie Speranza, a newspaper reporter, because she’s so curious, determined and gutsy.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
In this story, I introduced Agent Carla River, who likes to be called River. She is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever created, but she’s not much like me at all. She’s transgendered, so it was fascinating to get inside her head. But I tried to keep that aspect of her life low key. River is also physically inactive and somewhat spiritual and zen-like—other characteristics very different from me. So it was fun to really get outside my own thinking to create her.
You’ve had a considerable amount of success in the indie publishing world before making the transition to Thomas and Mercer for this latest book. How did you get your start in indie publishing, and what has the transition been like?
I self-published the first story featuring Jackson, THE SEX CLUB, back in 2007 when indie publishing was not only uncool, it was also very expensive because of the cost of offset print runs. Then I was picked up by a small press, which made me slightly more legitimate but gave me no hope of earning money. So in 2010, when ebooks started to sell well on Kindle, I left my publisher and put everything I had written up on Amazon. I marketed full-time for six weeks, then soon started making a living. In 2011, I kept writing and promoting like crazy, and my readership kept growing. Last May, Amazon Publishing offered to buy all my backlist titles and contract for two more stories. The backlist versions came out last month, and it’s been such a relief to have Amazon doing a lot of marketing. I had been under an enormous amount of pressure, and it’s great to not shoulder the whole responsibility anymore.
You’ve been known to do some standup comedy in addition to your writing. Do you try to inject your stories or dialogue with a sense of humor as well? If so, how does writing comedy differ from performing comedy in your experience?
I write a realistic and somewhat gritty crime series, so there isn’t much room for humor. But I do try to inject a little when I can, because law enforcement people do make jokes to keep their otherwise grim jobs from getting them down. Yet I’ve written three comedy screenplays, and believe me, writing humor is much more challenging that performing it. Mostly because written words lack the verbal tones and facial expressions that deliver most of a standup performance.
Other than RULES OF CRIME, what is your favorite book you’ve written? Why?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite But THE SEX CLUB will always be special because it launched the Jackson series and my career. It’s also a subject I feel very passionate about. I remember sometimes laughing out loud as I was writing and thinking: No one will ever publish this. To a certain extent, I was right. But it’s my bestseller and more readers have written to me—to express their pleasure—about THE SEX CLUB than any other books. THE GAUNTLET ASSASSIN is also a favorite because it’s so different than anything else I’ve ever written. Creating those competition scenes was wild good fun.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
Again, it’s so hard to pick just one. But I’ve always thought THE TOMORROW FILE by Lawrence Sanders (a futuristic thriller) is one of the most creative stories I’ve ever read. My husband, a nonreader, loved it too.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
Hawaii: It’s warm, beautiful, and a single flight away.
Your bio says that you’re an avid thrill seeker. What’s the most insane thing you’ve ever done in this vein?
I think skydiving qualifies as insane. But also, in the summer on a daily basis, I bike up big hills just for the joy of racing down as fast as I can. I’ve been known to pass cars on my bicycle as I try to get to the bottom without braking. And yes, I keep my will/testament updated regularly.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Besides the creative process—the sheer joy of storytelling—I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed those stories. What could be better than providing other people with escapism pleasure?
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
At this point, I’m a pretty open book. I’ve shared my processes, joys, and heartbreaks publically along the way. What I rarely talk about is the fear of not being able to repeat my success. All writers experience it, but I refuse to indulge it. I simply tell myself to shut up, sit down, and write something. Also, despite my positive, extrovert personality, I’m prone to anxiety—much of which comes from raising three boys. So I spend a lot of time telling myself it’ll all be okay.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors looking to make a career in the indie publishing business and beyond?
Three things: 1) Get professional feedback on your work. 2) If your book is marketable, then make an investment in professional editing and formatting. 3) Get comfortable with promotion and make it as much a part of your life as writing is.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
My next book is another Jackson story, which will be published early next year. In it, I introduce another new character, Agent Jamie Dallas. I had so much fun writing her part that I decided to base a standalone thriller on her, which I’m writing now. I also think she’ll be a great series character, so I may write two more Agent Dallas stories. And I plan to write at least two more Jackson stories. After that, I may run for the Senate.
A tremendous thank you to L.J. Sellers for taking the time to share her insights with us. Make sure to check out RULES OF CRIME for Detective Jackson’s most riveting and personal adventure yet.
L.J. Sellers is a native of Eugene, Oregon, the setting of her thrillers. She’s an award-winning journalist and bestselling novelist, as well as a cyclist, social networker, and thrill-seeking fanatic. Her novels featuring Detective Jackson include THE SEX CLUB, SECRETS TO DIE FOR, THRILLED TO DEATH, PASSIONS OF THE DEAD, DYING FOR JUSTICE, LIARS, CHEATERS AND THIEVES and RULES OF CRIME. In addition, she’s penned three standalone thrillers: THE BABY THIEF, THE GAUNTLET ASSASSIN and THE SUICIDE EFFECT. When not plotting murder, she’s also been known to perform standup comedy and occasionally jump out of airplanes.
To learn more about L.J., please visit her website.